Thursday, 31 May 2012

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

I’ve been meaning to read Pynchon for a while now, and stumbling across The Crying of Lot 49 in the library, I decided to start with one of his shorter novels. Showing a complete lack of culture on my part of any kind, I came to the conclusion that I had made a wise decision. The book, I enjoyed immensely (any novel that describes the violent finale of a Jacobean revenge play as like a Road Runner cartoon in blank verse is worth reading for that line alone) but Pynchon’s prose is so dense, and the avalanche of ideas so unrelenting, that it is entirely unsuited for the commute to work by train and its attendant bouts of motion induced narcolepsy.


Back to the story: The Crying of Lot 49 follows Oedipa Maas, former lover of Pierce Inverarity, who has just died and rather inconsiderately named her as joint executor of his will. Leaving behind her disk jockey husband, Waldo ‘Mucho’ Maas, at their home in Kinneret, CA, she drives south to San Narciso, where Pierce had extensive business dealings. Checking into a motel, she is surprised by the arrival of her co-executor, a lawyer called Metzger, who has brought a bottle of wine with him.

He turned out to be so good-looking that Oedipa thought at first that They, somebody up there, were putting her on. It had to be an actor. He stood at her door, behind him the oblong swimming pool shimmering silent in a mild diffusion of light from the night-time sky, saying, “Mrs Maas,” like a reproach. His enormous eyes, lambent, extravagantly lashed, smiled out at her wickedly; she looked around him for reflectors, microphones, camera cabling, but there was only himself and a debonair bottle of French Beaujolais, which he claimed to’ve smuggled last year into California, this rollicking lawbreaker, past the frontier guards. “So hey,” he murmured, “after scouring motels all day to find you, I can come in, can’t I?” Oedipa had planned on nothing more involved that evening than watching Bonanza on the tube. She shifted into stretch denim slacks and a shaggy black sweater, and had her hair all the way down. She knew she looked pretty good. “Come in,” she said, “But I only have one glass.” “I,” the gallant Metzger let her know, “can drink out of the bottle.”

Actually, Metzger is an actor, or he was once. One of his films is being shown on the television that night, back from the days when he was a child star. He tries to explain the plot of Cashiered, but the reels are being played in the wrong order and Oedipa is having trouble keeping up:

“But,” began Oedipa, then saw how they were suddenly out of wine. “Aha,” said Metzger, from inside a coat pocket producing a bottle of tequila. “No lemons?” she asked, with movie-gaiety. “No salt?” “A tourist thing. Did Inverarity use lemons when you were there?”

All this booze is bound to lead to horseplay, and Oedipa and Metzger embark on an affair. It’s the first of many peculiar happenings as Oedipa discovers that Inverarity’s legacy is proof of an alternative mail service called Tristero, locked in a centuries long conflict with Thurn & Taxis, the first official mail courier of Europe. Finding the muted trumpet logo of Tristero all over California, Oedipa believes that she is on the verge of uncovering an enormous conspiracy. Of course, it could just be an elaborate hoax, or even a product of Oedipa’s over analysed mind...

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